No Matter the Method, Fewer Americans Taking Steps to Improve Energy Efficiency at Home

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – A notably severe winter has finally come to a close, and some Americans may soon see drops in their utility costs as a result. But how much do Americans really know about the various energy resources heating their homes, powering their entertainment centers and charging their mobile devices? What do Americans see as the cleanest – and most harmful – energy resources? And whatever the source supplying their grids with electricity, are Americans taking steps to use less of it?

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,221 adults, surveyed online between February 11 and 17, 2015.

A majority of Americans – albeit a diminishing one – say they turn off lights, televisions or other appliances when not in use in order to improve energy efficiency at home (75%, down from 79% in 2014 and 82% in 2012). There have also been drops in the percentage of Americans engaging in a number of other efficiency-boosting steps at home, including:

  • Replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs (50%, down from 55% in 2014 and 58% in 2012),
  • Looking for the ENERGY STAR label when replacing appliances (47% vs. 50% and 55%, respectively),
  • Using low watt bulbs where lighting isn’t critical (46% vs. 50% and 54%, respectively),
  • Using power strips for home electronics (44% vs. 49% and 56%, respectively) and
  • Reducing hot water use with steps like taking shorter showers or using cold water in their washer’s rinse cycle (40% vs. 45% and 48%, respectively).

Men and women prefer to take action in different ways. While they differ little on steps like replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones (51% men, 49% women) and seeking out ENERGY STAR appliances (46%, 48%), women are considerably more likely to say they’ve taken steps to reduce hot water usage (46% women, 33% men). Men, in contrast, are more likely to say they’ve taken steps such as sealing gaps in floors and walls around pipes or wiring (33% men, 25% women), installing energy efficient windows (29%, 23%) and having a TV with Smart technology (23%, 17%).

Some regional differences also exist in energy-saving practices and adoptions. For example, nearly half of Southerners (47%) change their air filters monthly, in comparison to just two in ten (21%) Easterners, three in ten (29%) Westerners and a third (33%) of those in the Midwest. Meanwhile, nearly four in ten Westerners (37%) have installed low-flow faucets or showerheads, compared to fewer than one-fourth each of those in the East (22%), Midwest (23%) and South (24%).

And if knowledge is, in fact, power, then Americans would appear to have their wires crossed. On the one hand, more than six in ten (62%) believe themselves knowledgeable about energy issues including sources of electrical power and energy efficiency; on the other, only one in ten (11%) have looked to upgrade their knowledge in this particular area by conducting a home energy evaluation or audit.

“Even though understanding of energy sources remains at historical levels, in the last few years fewer consumers are taking steps to reduce energy consumption in their homes,” says Carol M. Gstalder, Reputation & Public Relations Practice Leader for Harris Poll.  “As energy prices drop, so do consumers’ commitment to energy-saving decisions from replacing light bulbs and water heaters to installing solar.”

Considering the source

Setting aside how much electricity Americans are using, it does all need to come from somewhere. When asked whether the risks outweigh the benefits, or vice versa, for several mainstream and emerging sources of electrical power in the U.S., Americans most commonly believe the benefits of solar (78%) and wind (75%) outweigh their risks.

Despite no small amount of controversy over the past few years, a strong majority of Americans also see natural gas’s benefits outweighing its risks (66%). Additionally, half of Americans (50%) believe geothermal power’s benefits outweigh the risks, while 8% say the risks outweigh the benefits and 42% are not at all sure – indicating a considerable knowledge gap but few negative sentiments.

Nuclear power, on the other hand, shows the inverse, with a 42% plurality believing its risks outweigh its benefits; 34% believe the benefits outweigh the risks and 24% are unsure. An even stronger – and growing – plurality (46%, up from 40% last year) believe coal’s risks outweigh its benefits, while 34% feel its benefits outweigh its risks and 20% are unsure.

Biomass continues to be the biggest unknown, with six in ten U.S. adults (60%) not at all sure of its risks or benefits; three in ten (29%) feel its benefits outweigh its risks, while one in ten (11%) feel the inverse is true.

There are some generational differences on perceptions of various energy sources’ benefits and risks. Perhaps most notably, older Americans are more likely than their younger counterparts to believe the benefits of natural gas outweigh the risks (82% Matures, 76% Baby Boomers, 61% Gen Xers, 53% Millennials). Matures and Boomers (43% and 38%) are also more likely than Gen Xers and Millennials (29% and 31%) to feel the benefits of coal outweigh the risks.

Turning to political affiliations, Republicans are more likely than either Democrats or Independents to feel the benefits outweigh the risks for both natural gas (79% Republicans, 59% Democrats, 64% Independents) and nuclear power (51%, 24% and 31%, respectively).

Environmental impacts

When asked to select which two energy sources they believe are best for the environment, solar (69%) and wind (60%) are the leading responses by an exponential margin. Roughly one in ten Americans select hydro (11%), electric (11%), and oil and natural gas (10%), while 7% identify nuclear power.

When asked to identify which two sources are worst for the environment, Americans’ top selection is coal (53%), followed by nuclear (39%).

Just under a quarter of Americans (23%) identify oil and natural gas as worst for the environment, while 16% point to home heating oil and roughly one in ten each select ethanol/bio fuel (10%) and propane (9%). 

 

 TABLE 1

KNOWLEDGE ABOUT ENERGY ISSUES AND ELECTRICAL POWER – By Region

“Thinking of something else, how knowledgeable would you say you are about energy issues including sources of electrical power and energy efficiency?”

Base: All adults

 

Total 2009

Total
2011 

Total
2012

Total
2014

Total 2015

Region

East

Midwest

South

West

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Knowledgeable (NET)

59

61

61

65

62

64

58

58

67

     Very knowledgeable

9

12

8

10

9

10

8

9

10

     Somewhat knowledgeable

50

49

53

55

52

54

50

48

57

Not knowledgeable (NET)

41

39

39

35

38

36

42

42

33

     Not very knowledgeable

32

31

28

25

29

24

33

32

27

     Not at all knowledgeable

8

9

11

10

9

11

9

10

5

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

 

TABLE 2a

BENEFITS VERSUS RISKS FOR VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES – Summary Grid

“There are many sources of electric power used in the U.S.  To the best of your knowledge, would you say the benefits of each source outweigh the risks or do you believe the risks outweigh the benefits?”

Base: All adults

 

BENEFITS OUTWEIGH RISKS (NET)

Benefits strongly outweigh risks

Benefits somewhat outweigh risks

RISKS OUTWEIGH BENEFITS (NET)

Risks somewhat outweigh benefits

Risks strongly outweigh benefits

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Solar

2015

78

59

19

7

4

3

15

2014

78

63

15

7

4

3

15

2012

79

63

15

8

4

4

13

2011

77

64

13

8

3

6

14

2009

82

68

14

5

3

2

13

Wind

2015

75

53

22

8

4

4

17

2014

76

56

20

9

5

4

15

2012

76

61

16

9

5

5

15

2011

75

61

14

10

3

7

15

2009

78

62

17

7

4

2

15

Natural gas

2015

66

31

35

15

12

4

19

2014

68

34

34

15

11

4

17

2012

66

34

32

17

12

5

17

2011

64

31

34

17

11

6

18

2009

66

30

36

14

11

3

20

Geothermal

2015

50

28

22

8

5

3

42

2014

52

31

21

8

6

2

40

2012

53

32

21

10

6

4

37

2011

52

33

18

10

5

5

38

2009

52

32

20

7

5

2

40

Nuclear

2015

34

14

20

42

18

24

24

2014

37

14

24

40

19

21

22

2012

40

15

24

41

19

21

20

2011

42

20

22

37

18

19

21

2009

44

21

23

34

17

17

22

Coal

2015

34

12

22

46

25

20

20

2014

41

14

27

40

23

17

19

2012

42

15

27

40

23

17

18

2011

38

15

23

43

24

18

19

2009

36

13

23

42

22

20

22

Biomass

2015

29

11

17

11

8

3

60

2014

29

13

16

9

6

3

61

2012

30

13

17

12

8

4

58

2011

30

14

17

12

7

6

57

2009

28

12

16

12

8

4

60

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 


TABLE 2b

BENEFITS VERSUS RISKS FOR VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES – By Political Party & Generation

“There are many sources of electric power used in the U.S.  To the best of your knowledge, would you say the benefits of each source outweigh the risks or do you believe the risks outweigh the benefits?”

Percentage Saying “Benefits Outweigh Risks”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Generation

Republican

Democrat

Independent

Millennials
(18-37)

Gen X
(38-49)

Baby
Boomers
(50-68)

Matures
(69+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Solar

78

75

80

82

76

74

82

79

Wind

75

69

77

80

76

70

77

75

Natural Gas

66

79

59

64

53

61

76

82

Geothermal

50

53

44

58

49

46

52

58

Coal

34

48

25

36

31

29

38

43

Nuclear

34

51

24

31

26

34

42

37

Biomass

29

31

26

32

33

22

30

27

 

 

 TABLE 3

DONE ACTIVITIES TO IMPROVE ENERGY EFFICIENCY AT HOME – By Region & Gender

“Which of the following have you done to improve energy efficiency in your place of living?”

Base: All adults

 

Total
2012

Total
2014

Total 2015

Region

Gender

East

Midwest

South

West

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Turn off lights, televisions or other appliances when not in use

82

79

75

72

74

76

79

73

77

Replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs

58

55

50

45

51

48

55

51

49

Look for ENERGY STAR label when replacing large or small appliances

55

50

47

57

42

44

48

46

48

Use low watt bulbs where lighting is not critical

54

50

46

45

45

43

51

48

44

Use power strips for home electronics

56

49

44

40

47

43

45

43

45

Reduce hot water usage by taking shorter showers or using cold water in the rinse cycle in your washer

48

45

40

36

37

41

44

33

46

Weather stripping around windows or doors to stop air leaks

38

37

34

36

33

36

30

36

31

Change air filters monthly

40

41

34

21

33

47

29

35

32

Installed a programmable thermostat

37

36

31

32

32

29

30

33

29

Seal gaps in floors, walls around pipes or electrical wiring

34

32

29

32

31

29

24

33

25

Install low-flow faucets or showerheads

29

27

26

22

23

24

37

29

24

Installed energy efficient windows

28

29

26

29

28

23

27

29

23

Add insulation to your attic, crawl space or any accessible exterior walls

27

26

24

25

26

21

26

27

22

Have TV with Smart technology

21

24

19

20

20

16

22

23

17

Conducted a home energy evaluation or audit

11

10

11

11

7

12

14

13

9

Purchased a new HVAC system

10

13

11

7

10

15

10

13

9

Installed a tankless water heater

3

4

4

6

1

4

5

4

4

Installed Solar technology

3

3

3

3

1

2

5

3

2

Installed Wind technology

1

2

1

1

*

1

2

1

1

None of these

7

8

11

14

10

11

11

12

11

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

 TABLE 4

BEST ENERGY SOURCES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT – By Generation & Gender

“Thinking about the following energy sources, what two sources do you believe are best for the environment?”

Base: All adults

 

Total
2008

Total
2014

Total 2015

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-37)

Gen X
(38-49)

Baby
Boomers
(50-68)

Matures
(69+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Solar

69

68

69

67

70

67

74

69

69

Wind

64

57

60

61

64

59

51

60

60

Hydro

12

12

11

15

7

10

13

14

8

Electric

7

11

11

11

7

12

14

10

11

Oil and Natural Gas

6

11

10

6

9

13

18

9

11

Nuclear Power

15

8

7

5

6

7

14

11

3

Hydrogen

8

5

4

4

4

5

4

7

2

Coal

1

3

3

2

5

4

1

3

3

Ethanol/Bio fuel

5

3

2

2

2

1

1

1

2

Home Heating Oil

*

1

1

1

1

2

*

*

1

Propane

1

1

1

1

*

1

1

1

1

Other

1

1

1

1

1

*

1

*

1

Not sure

7

10

9

11

11

8

4

6

12

Note: * indicates a response rate of <0.5%

 

 

TABLE 5

WORST ENERGY SOURCES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT – By Generation & Gender

“Which two sources do you believe are worst for the environment?”

Base: All adults

 

Total
2008

Total
2014

Total 2015

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-37)

Gen X
(38-49)

Baby
Boomers
(50-68)

Matures
(69+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Coal

57

53

54

52

50

54

65

65

44

Nuclear Power

27

40

39

38

45

41

28

34

44

Oil and Natural Gas

35

21

23

35

22

14

17

29

18

Home Heating Oil

22

16

16

6

12

22

31

18

14

Ethanol/Bio fuel

13

13

10

9

12

10

10

8

12

Propane

6

7

9

10

9

8

11

7

12

Hydrogen

3

5

4

4

3

3

8

3

5

Wind

1

3

2

2

1

3

3

3

1

Solar

*

2

2

3

2

1

1

3

1

Hydro

1

2

1

1

1

1

*

1

1

Electric

4

3

1

2

1

1

*

1

1

Other

4

2

2

1

2

2

3

3

1

Not sure

13

17

17

16

17

19

11

11

22

Note: * indicates a response rate of <0.5%

 

 


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between February 11 and 17, 2015 among 2,221 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll. 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #22, April 22, 2015

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll